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  • Winter migrants

    Brett Westwood

    Naturalist and broadcaster

    Milder than most of northern Europe, the British Isles are a warm-ish winter home for a multitude of birds which flock into our orchards, estuaries, lakes and gardens.

    Russian white-fronted geese by Ted Smith on Flickr

    Russian white-fronted goose

    Thousands of Russian white-fronted geese spend the winter on our estuaries every winter, pouring in from their Arctic breeding-grounds  to graze lush grass and sedges on wetlands near safe roosting sites. This winter more than usual they have arrived in south and east England. They were diverted from the Netherlands by strong easterly winds and heavy fog in late November and have turned up in unexpected places. One even appeared in Regent's Park in Central London. Russian white-fronts yap noisily like small dogs as they fly. On the ground you can identify them by their white “forehead” and black marks on the belly. Their bills are pink and they are slightly smaller and more elegant than the much commoner Canada and greylag geese.

    Small numbers of the  much rarer Greenland white-fronts also…

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  • The healing power of wetlands

    WWT

    Partner organisation of the Watches

    In winter, wetlands come to life with over-wintering birds filling the skies, their reflections intensifying their vast numbers. They’re also full of hidden charms ready to be discovered, if you take the time to look closer at humble mosses or footprints in the mud, or watch a duck glide across a glassy pool.

    But what is it about water, and wetlands, that make them such soothing places?

    Bittern by James Lees WWT

    The healing power of water

    “I suffer from anxiety and when you go by the water you feel much better.” – These words were in the headlines recently, as two women in Derbyshire sought out a reservoir for their daily exercise. They echo what many feel innately: that when we’re by the sea, river, lake, or garden pond, our pulses slow and we feel a sense of peace, more able to deal with the stresses of the pandemic and the modern world.

    It’s impossible to imagine human life without water. For generations people have been drawn to art featuring water, from Monet to Turner and Hokusai. We’re constantly…

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  • Where birdwatching and artificial intelligence collide

    BBC Research & Development

    By Oscar Schafer, R&D Engineer

    A great tit and a blue tit detected in the New Forest

    Over the past few years, there has been an ongoing partnership between The Watches and BBC Research & Development (R&D), focusing on “Intelligent Production Tools” and getting even more value from the wildlife cameras. In an effort to bring viewers the very best of British wildlife, an increasingly important aspect of making a nature show is perhaps surprisingly… technology.

    Abundance of sources

    From the River Ness to the New Forest, we have seen the largest network of cameras yet contributing to the online streams and the live shows this past year. However, with an increasing number of cameras, there’s an added pressure on the camera operators and the creative team not to miss those “golden nuggets” that make the Watches so special. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning come into the picture.

    Starlings detected on the pier in Aberystwyth

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  • Making the most of your garden feeding

    BTO

    Partner organisation of the Watches

    By Rob Jaques (BTO Garden BirdWatch Supporter Development Officer)

    Bird feeding can be a great way to attract more birds into your garden, even if that space is small or located in an urban area. Bird feeding has become a huge industry – it has been estimated that there is one bird feeder for every nine birds that might use it, holding a collective standing crop of 2,500 tonnes – and is no doubt having an impact on garden birds and other wildlife. As we increase our understanding of the costs and benefits of this food provision, we can all work to ensure we have a positive impact on the…

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  • Live TV has never been so green!

    Making live TV takes a lot of energy and off-grid outside broadcasts are usually powered by gas guzzling diesel generators which pollute the planet with greenhouse gas emissions and particulates.  But this year, our outside broadcast truck housing the gallery at the heart of the operation is powered by ‘green’ hydrogen which can be converted into 100% emission-free electricity using fuel cell…

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  • What to do if you find hibernating butterflies?

    Butterfly Conservation

    Why do butterflies hibernate?

    Unlike mammals and birds, butterflies and moths rely on external sources of heat to warm their bodies so that they can be active, increasing their body temperature way above ambient air temperature by basking in sunshine or ‘shivering’, which involves vibrating their flight muscles. However, when their surroundings are too cold, most butterflies and moths are forced to remain inactive.

    Brimstone butterfly by Eberhard Pfeuffe

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  • The call of the ocean

    Sea Watch Foundation

    By Lorna Bointon, Sea Watch Foundation Regional Coordinator

    A serene sea in the golden glow of a setting sun. Image by R Bointon

    Research has shown that being by the seaside can benefit our emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. Who doesn’t feel better after a coastal walk in bracing sea air, tasting salty spray on our lips and hearing seabirds crying and wheeling overhead?

    For this reason, I would like you to take a deep breath and join me on a virtual seaside…

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  • The Winterwatch Live Lesson

    BBC Teach

    BBC Teach and Winterwatch are teaming up for a very special Live Lesson at 11am on 28 January 2021. Our education consultant, primary teacher and independent primary science consultant, Claire Seeley, talks to us about why outdoor learning is so important.

    Over this last year, many of us have spent more time outdoors. We have seen first-hand how being in our natural world is good for both our…

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  • The big sleepers

    Brett Westwood

    Naturalist and broadcaster

    For mammals such as hedgehogs, dormice and bats, hibernation is much more the Big Sleep. When they hibernate, these mammals adjust their whole metabolisms. Their breathing rates and heart rates fall dramatically, their body temperatures drop to a few degrees above their surroundings and they put on layers of fat to insulate them from the winter cold.

    Why do these mammals hibernate and not others? It’s all about food supply and body temperature. Mammals are warm-blooded and produce their own internal central heating, unlike lizards or snakes which need to sun-bathe to get warm. To produce this…

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  • Liking lichens: What to watch this winter

    Plantlife

    “There is a low mist in the woods—
    It is a good day to study lichens.”
    ― Henry David Thoreau, A Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851

    Last spring, an eruption of wild flowers on road verges, garden lawns and eerily unused playgrounds lifted the spirits of many. As we now contend with the short days and cold nights of a deep winter lockdown there is, thankfully, still so much solace to be found in nature.

    Enter lichens, those scandalously unheralded building blocks of the natural world that so often fly below the radar. Lichens cover up to a staggering 7% of the planet’s surface yet there is still so…

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